Web Accessibility Initiative: Developing Accessible Software

Web-Accessibility-photo

A global phenomenon created for all people, web is meant to provide an opportunity to use web products and services to anyone. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) aims to ensure that millions of users with physical or mental disabilities have equal opportunities and can benefit from modern digital solutions. What is Web Accessibility Initiative and what are its key considerations? Read on to learn!

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The Basics of the Web Accessibility Initiative

When web tools or websites are not accommodating various needs, they create more barriers and lead to more inequality and discrimination by excluding a large population segment from using innovative technologies.

What Is WAI?

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a concept that aims to support people with disabilities, remove digital barriers and provide equal opportunities and access rights for them. WAI was created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) — an international community that develops standards to ensure the web’s long-term growth. Web accessibility is recognized as a fundamental human right by the United Nations.

The Web Accessibility Initiative definition can be phrased as follows: a set of standards and recommendations that should be applied to the development of all websites, applications and other digital solutions to make them accessible to all people regardless of their abilities.

The accessibility issue may be of concern to numerous people due to the following reasons:

  • Temporary health problems due to injuries or various conditions
  • Lifelong health problems
  • Changing abilities of the elderly population such as reduced vision or hearing, memory loss or hand tremors

In general, WAI is considered a best practice and many countries have already adopted it.

Read also: How Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Are Changing Our Lives

Why Is Web Accessibility Important?

Undoubtedly, disabilities influence how people use the web. Some can’t perceive audio or video content; others are not able to use a mouse or a keyboard to navigate, etc. Nevertheless, people want to get and distribute information via modern gadgets, stay in touch with family and friends and interact with the outside world.

Web accessibility means that everyone can use technologies on equal terms and enjoy the following to the fullest, regardless of abilities:

  • Getting audio information
  • Getting visual information
  • Understanding information
  • Completing transactions

Web accessibility is also crucial for people with temporary limitations or permanent disabilities. Provided by the ability to configure standard software and hardware according to user needs and preferences, personalization greatly improves the quality of life for numerous users.

The benefits of accessible computing also affect the following groups of people without disabilities: those working in a loud environment, those using a slow Internet connection, those with low literacy, the elderly, mobile users, etc.

Thus, it’s crucial to consider the requirements of all categories of people while developing apps or websites to provide maximum usability.

Prerequisites for the Development of Accessible Software and Websites

Let’s find out the key considerations and guidelines to making websites and applications accessible.

The WAI Guidelines

First of all, you have to follow the WAI Guidelines developed by the Protocols and Formats Working Group — a union consisting of industry and government representatives, researchers and different organizations from all over the world. The guidelines are the following:

  • Perceptivity: information and user interface design must be easy to perceive.
  • Operability: user interface components and navigation must be operable.
  • Understandability: information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  • Robustness: content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users.
Read also: Green IT: Nine Facts Proving That IT Can Help Save the Planet

These principles apply to all components of web development and interaction so that they could work together. The elements of web accessibility include:

  • Content (text, images, sounds, layout)
  • Browsers, media players and other “agents”
  • Developers and users (their knowledge and experience)
  • Authoring and evaluating tools
  • Assistive technologies

If one accessibility feature is implemented in one component, it is more likely to be implemented in the other components as well for better cooperation and support.

Tools and Techniques That Enable Web Accessibility

Web accessibility includes tools that adapt techniques for special needs and assist people in using them. Known as assistive technologies, these tools can be divided into four groups based on interaction types. Here is an overview.

Perception Tools

These tools assist in perceiving information via different senses — auditory, visual, tactile.

Examples:

  • Audio descriptions for visual details
  • Notifications to alert users by blinking, sounds, vibration, etc.
  • Captions and transcripts to describe auditory information with a verbatim recording; the TextTrack API can be used to provide captions dynamically
  • Braille — a system of reading by using the fingertips; refreshable braille displays are widely implemented
  • Speech synthesis to convert text into voice (e.g. screen readers and voice browsers)
  • Screen magnification to enlarge or reduce text and images sizes to better see the content
Read also: Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services: Why Is It a Leader on the Cognitive Computing Market?

Presentation Tools

These tools assist in distinguishing and understanding the content.

Examples:

  • Changeable fonts and colors, volume control to make texts easier to read or to listen to
  • Customized documents outline to provide orientation and an overview of the content
  • Simplified summaries of texts to make them easier to understand
  • Progressive disclosure to avoid overloading the user with information
  • Reduced interface to show the most relevant information and hide unimportant parts that may distract the user
  • Alternative presentations of the content, e.g. sign language, symbols

Input Tools

These tools assist in typing, writing and clicking.

Examples:

  • Accelerators to reduce efforts needed to type or click
  • Alternative keyboard and mouse, e.g. larger keys, joysticks, hands-free interaction
  • Eye-tracking to replace moving and clicking the mouse
  • Voice recognition to identify commands for operating the computer
  • Spelling and grammar tools, word prediction to help users write

Interaction Tools

These tools assist in navigating and finding information.

Examples:

  • Multiple navigation mechanisms such as sitemaps, hierarchical menus, bookmarks, history
  • Descriptive titles, headings and labels
  • Keyword search to provide more precise search results
  • Helpful error and success messages to help users complete tasks and avoid disorientation
  • Visual orientation cues to indicate different parts of the content and place relevant information to the foreground

If the project implies developing an accessible website or software, a comprehensive and continuous evaluation is a must. It helps identify computer accessibility problems at early stages, address them and determine if the final product meets all guidelines. Automated evaluation tools are used together with the human evaluation to achieve the best results.

Read also: Digital Health — the New Concept to Improve Medical Care

Accessible Software: Real-Life Use Cases

Nowadays, the WAI principles are supported by default in many projects, as any developed product needs clear structure and functionality. SaM Solutions strives to use the top WAI libraries of components and styles in its development processes. We aim to provide high-quality solutions according to all international standards, including the Web Accessibility Initiative, and make them available to every user.

The SaM Solutions team completed two projects in full compliance with the standard, using all necessary accessibility approaches.

A Project for Visually Impaired Users

We created the solution that targeted partially sighted persons for a large IT company.

The challenge was to create an entirely new UX and UI for an existing application, integrating responsive design, improved usability, accessibility and performance.

The SaM Solutions team of experts designed the new frontend architecture of the app and added the following features:

  • Keyboard navigation
  • A contrast mode
  • Contrast off
  • WAI attributes support mode

A Mobile Application for Users with Vision Impairments

Our team developed this mobile app for a healthcare company that uses innovations to address the most challenging medical issues. The mission was to help people with visual impairements experience the world around them.

The application is provided as a service to patients to help them with everyday activities. It can recognize faces, items and scenes. Here is the way it works:

  • The user can take or upload a picture of any person. The picture is added to the list of individuals that the app will be able to identify later. A database of objects is supported by default.
  • The smartphone camera takes pictures of an object in front of a person.
  • Then, the app uses the back-end cognitive services to provide a description from any available document library. If the picture contains a familiar object or person, the app will identify them, and, using speech generation, the user will hear who or what is in the picture.

Features:

  • Usage of Microsoft Cognitive Services and latest image analysis technologies to identify people, items and scenes
  • Compatibility with different types of devices and platforms such as iOS, Android and Windows
  • Support of multiple languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Greek, Dutch and Hungarian

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Create Accessible Software — Provide Equal Opportunities

Web accessibility is a great instrument that provides all people with equal opportunities for social interaction, entertainment, education, employment and many more activities, via modern technologies. Accessible websites and software are essential for companies, as ensuring website compliance with accessibility standards helps attract more users.

SaM Solutions supports this initiative and is happy to provide clients with software that complies with WAI standards. To learn more, please contact our specialists.

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About the author

Natallia Sakovich
Natallia Sakovich

A copywriter at SaM Solutions, Natallia is devoted to her motto — to write simply and clearly about complicated things. Backed up with a 5-year experience in copywriting, she creates informative but exciting articles on high technologies.

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